Dear friends in Christ,
The Lord now speaks my language! This is an expression of joy that is often
exclaimed by individuals and communities when they first receive a translation
of the Bible in their own language. The gift of the Spirit on Pentecost to share
the Good News of Jesus Christ to all people in their own language continues
today. This takes place when Bible societies such as Wycliffe Bible Translators
or Lutheran Bible Translators publish a new translation, but also when
believers, evangelists, and pastors share the Good News face to face in the
language of the people. The Spirit works through the printed Word, the publicly
proclaimed Word, and the Word of one-on-one witness to kindle and
strengthen faith in the hearers.
At our CLET seminary in Dapaong, we gather faithful men from all over
countries in Africa where French is the official language of government,
education, and business. However, in most of these countries the French
language is not the first language of the people; most people speak one or
more local languages before they learn and use French in school. Many
countries have dozens of local languages and the most neutral and efficient
way to unite diverse populations – who frequently have violent histories
between one another - is to force everyone to step outside of their comfortzone to speak a “foreign” language, French.
A negative side to this sort
of policy is that as certain members of the population gain access to
higher education and professional opportunities, they will set aside their
local languages more and more and they lose the ability to think and
communicate well in the mindset of
their elders and relatives in the village. A well-educated person may be able
to speak and communicate very clearly and efficiently in French, but if
he or she begins to try to communicate with less educated friends and
relatives in their local language, the person may no longer understand the
nuances and the vocabulary needed to express himself or herself clearly.
Certainly, they may be using words that are intelligible to the hearers, but they
are actually speaking and thinking in French, just using the local words. Often
these conversations do not make sense. You may have had a similar
experience if you have read the poorly-translated label of a product from China
– often known as “Chinglish.” Running a phrase through Google translate or
Facebook online will also often give confusing results.
Of course, the best way to avoid this kind of language confusion is to
train pastors and local leaders in their local languages. Many missionaries and
Bible translators did and still do just that. Missionaries take years to learn and
master a language to evangelize and to provide faithful translations. However,
for a regional seminary such as CLET, we simply cannot do that. According to
our current twenty-eight students, among them there are over fifty local African
languages that they speak and understand to varying degrees. It would be
impossible for our faculty to master those languages to teach in the three years
the students are with us at CLET. So, we de what is most efficient, we teach in
French – a language they all speak at a conversant level. But we do not want
the students to leave the CLET knowing all the good theology they studied in
French, but impaired in their ability to transmit these teachings faithfully to their
parishes and fellow church leaders. This is why at the same time we
encourage the students to gain knowledge, leadership, and technology skills,
we also encourage them to stay rooted in their local languages in their student groups and in their families.
We encourage the students to pray and do devotions with each other in their local languages.
Often in class the students are given assignments that require translating vocabulary lists of theological terms into their local languages.
To do this, though, they need access to the Bible in their own languages.
Bibles in local languages are often expensive and reprints are quickly sold out and distributed.
Before students come to CLET they often leave their only Bible back home for their families or other church leaders to use in ministry.
It is too difficult to search for and obtain printed copies of all of the Bible translations that would be needed for the students. What to do?
We recently discovered that the Bible
translation organization Wycliffe Togo has tablets
available that contain commentaries and Bible
translation tools. On November 20, 21, and 22
two tech assistants from Wycliffe came to CLET
to offer a workshop on the use of the tablets on the Android platform and to teach
the students about various Bible apps. Now each student can have access to
numerous African languages on their tablets for immediate use. The tablets will
be easier to take back to their home countries than heavy printed Bibles. The
students now have access to several Bibles without overcrowding their desks
and workspaces. The tablets also lessen noisy distractions from the turning of
pages during class.
We hope and pray that our students will be able to incorporate more of
their local languages with their teaching in French and their theological
conversations, resulting in them being easily able to cross the cultural and
communication bridge from the seminary in their home countries.
May the Spirit continue to work through the Lord's people in their witness
in word and deed to His love and mercy in Jesus Christ!
Rev. Jacob W. Gaugert
Centre Luthérien D'Études Theologiques
Togocell # (+228) 93 43 95 26
T-Mobile Intl. # (262) 271-3813
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